Every week since the legislature adjourned, I’ve been privileged to sit — via Zoom — amongst a group of people committed to making sure our communities have enough to eat. Whether it’s growing food, gleaning, serving meals, providing boxes and bags of food and fresh produce, delivering breakfasts and lunches to school children, or simply updating an ever-changing list of resources, the variety shows the commitment of many groups in our area.

Good Food for Bath began as an informal network three years ago to connect a number of organizations that were responding to food insecurity and food inequity, and to share resources. In its formation, it was not yet clear how instrumental this group would become in responding to community needs. Now, it allows more than 25 organizations in Bath and the surrounding communities to complement one another’s services and stay on the pulse of the immediate needs of local students, seniors and families

Organizations include the Bath BackPack Program, Merrymeeting Gleaners, Bath Farmers Market, Salvation Army, Bath Area Food Bank, Head Start, YMCA, Bath Housing and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust.

Their occasional meetings over the past couple of years have become weekly since mid-March, and there’s an urgency and continued commitment to respond effectively to the coronavirus pandemic. As crisis conditions on the ground have expanded and changed, this group offers each other timely information about where and how “shelf-stable” foods are being delivered, who has (or needs) bags for packing, how to “fill in” during school vacation week when meals were not available, how to adjust hours so that people have access to food every day of the week.

Others have joined these weekly calls, such as churches and other local officials. We’ve also shared updates on the number of people served and whether the group can now shift from simply responding to the crisis to more long-term planning.

Realtime resource-sharing is common. For instance, the Bath Community Garden has begun planting and will soon have more than enough lettuce “plugs.” Laurie Burhoe solicited volunteers to add them to their own gardens until they are ready for harvest, and then hand off the produce to the Merrymeeting Gleaners who will distribute the food to pantries, soup kitchens, and more. Jodi Malone from the Neighborhood Café received donations of food that she would not be able to use and the Bath BackPack Program took it for the Bath SkatePark.

When the RSU 1 recognized that its dedicated food preparation staff needed a break, and decided not to provide meals during the regular school vacation week in April, Food Services Manager Tim Harkins gave Good Food for Bath ample notice so that members were able to adjust their food supplies to accommodate these families during that week.

As a result of these weekly meetings, we worked to create a more sustainable system of food supplies for families at Woolwich Central School. The Bath BackPack Program will be supporting a similar backpack program at Woolwich Central School beginning this fall, supplementing student meals for their needs over the weekend. This will provide stability for a long-time program at the school that’s been run by dedicated school staff.

Together, these organizations have been able to pitch in so that people with transportation limitations could receive deliveries as needed. In response to a request from the Bath Area Food Bank, one local church has been making regular deliveries to an apartment complex in Bath.

These are just a few examples of the work that Good Food for Bath has been doing every week. As summer approaches and there is more garden and farm produce, Merrymeeting Gleaners (a group of volunteers who harvest and pick up excess produce donated by local farmers like Goranson Farm in Dresden) will be providing their Sharing Tables, which are placed around the community and available for anyone, no questions asked.

Food insecurity is not new to our area. Over 41% of students in the RSU 1 qualify for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches. The pandemic has simply expanded the needs of our residents. I talk with constituents every day who never thought they would need to know how to access the local food pantry.

I’m very grateful to be introduced to this collaborative network and to witness how this food system is working on behalf of all of us. We are lucky to have these helpers. Additional resources can be found here: www.merrymeetingfoodcouncil.org and bit.ly/SagHelps.

Allison Hepler representing Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Woolwich and part of Richmond in the Maine Legislature, and serves on the Woolwich selectboard.

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